The Suji Show!

Quelle excitation!  A few days ago, Suji got the first-page feature in a Japanese dog magazine.  The Aiken No Tomo profile offered insight into her past (rescued a little over a year and a half ago), ailments (some rear leg weakness), likes (treats and walks), dislikes (vacuum cleaners and loud noises), and her Instagram page (newoldpugsuji).

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At the same time, she was being spotlighted as part of a dog rescue pop-up event in at one of the major Shinjuku department stores.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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October 2, 2016: Akemi’s Tokyo Video Diaries! And assorted clips!

Weird Food Purchase of the Day = Bitter Melon Chips!

Osaka home cooked breakfast.  “I wore pants for you guys”.

Hibiya Park, Pizza Seirinkan, J.P. Hevin, pet spa, museums.

The streets of Shinjuku on a holiday weekend.

Tokyo street musicians.

And this one’s for Jodelle!

 

September 29, 2016: The Japan Round-up!

Posting all the pics that didn’t make the blog while I was in Japan…

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We visited a “space” exhibit in Ginza.  This paper cut-out display challenged you to discover three contrary cut-outs in the crowd: a child, a woman with an umbrella, and a cat.  I found the woman with the umbrella and think I spotted the kid, but no luck with that cat.

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Part of the same exhibit.

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Tokyo’s interesting architecture.

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Subway warnings.  Watch those kids!  And drunks!

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Some of the goodies at Dandelion chocolate in Tokyo.

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Me, ready for chocolate-making action.

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Ramen stop.

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The true 4D experience rumbling, wind, and scent.  I’ll leave it to you to provide the requisite tie-in joke.

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Umeda station isn’t named after the plum.

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Osaka at night

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Osaka during the day.

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Akemi just can’t resist.

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We spotted quite a few of these circular dead vegetations outside several izakayas.  No idea what they were.

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My friend at the farmer’s market – TamaNegiAtama!

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Another farmer’s market friend – he of the spicy pepper powder.

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Some Osaka shopping.

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Avocado tofu – surprisingly good.  As is most of the tofu in Japan compared to what we get in North America.

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Osaka fish market where you can just stop, point, and have it raw or cooked.

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Selfie-er’s beware!

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My take-out meal on the shinkansen.  Heavy on the fried stuff!

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Waiting under the giant spider.

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Green velour pants in Ginza.

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Some…interesting accessories – Ginza.
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Chef Masa (Sushisho Masa) is a huge fan of the anime One Piece.  Some of the restaurant’s bathroom decorations.

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One of the colorful dishes at Esquisse.

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Dessert at Esquisse.

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Kumamon, the mascot of Kumamoto prefecture.  And Akemi.

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Fresh fruit convenience machine.  Looks pretty popular.

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Doggy bentos.

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One of Hiroo’s popular eateries.

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More of Tokyo’s interesting architecture.

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Interesting window display – Omotesando.

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Akemi, thrilled to be at Pizza Seirinkan.

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Pina Colada-inspired dessert at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

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Akemi watched Angry Birds on the plane and insisted I watch it because the main character reminds her of me.

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Scallops at Benoit.

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Akemi and I got matching Gudetama t-shirts.   They reflect my current mood.

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Tokyo bakeries are insane.

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One of the weirdest desserts of the trip.  Ingredients included black truffles, parsley, and dill.  Very interesting – in a horrible horrible way.

September 16, 2016: Goodbye, Osaka! Hello, Tokyo! Again!

I always found it interesting that, despite the crazy amount of food I would eat every time I visited Japan, I would return home actually lighter than when I left.  At first, I assumed it was because I’d lost heavier muscle mass and gained comparatively lighter body fat BUT when I started measuring said body fat after subsequent trips, I discovered that I was actually getting leaner.  How to explain it?  Well, it could be the quality of the food I’m eating.  Or a possible change in my metabolism triggered by the time zone change.  But, more than likely, it’s the walking.  Lots and lots of walking.  Consulting my handy iPhone health monitor, I noted that, back in Vancouver, my sedentary lifestyle had me walking about, oh, 2000 steps a day.  Since arriving in Japan, my average daily step count is closer to 17 000.  Poor Akemi, with her tiny little feet, has probably hit 100k since our arrival!

I’d like to say that all this exercise makes me feel great, but the truth is I feel really, really, REALLY sore. Fortunately, while in L.A. recently, I invested in an incredibly comfortable pair of Ermenegildo Zegna’s to replace the pair of mail order Stacy Adams that, literally, fell apart on me while walking down Beverly Blvd.  It could have been much, much worse.

So, for our last day in Osaka, Akemi and I met up for lunch with her mother, father, and brother.  This time, it was soba and udon…

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I went with the cold soba set and tempura.  It’s accompanied by a dipping broth you season yourself with the daikon, wasabi and/or green onion.  By the way, can I just say how out of this world better tempura is in Japan compared to the heavy, greasy versions we’re usually served in North America?

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Akemi’s dad, mom, and brother kindly treated us to lunch.  At one point, Mrs. Aota noted I was holding my chopsticks incorrectly.   I adjusted my hold and had my skills totally evaporate – to the point where Mr. Aota, clearly feeling sorry for me, suggested I go back to my original hand position and not worry about it.

After lunch, I did an impromptu Periscope (I think I may do a few more before trip’s end) and then, we walked.  And walked.  And walked.

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Hey!  We discover a statue of what Akemi declared my “favorite god” because he’s surrounded by food.  Only, it turns out, he maybe isn’t a god at all but a street mascot.

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We pass this clinic, it’s windows adorned with photos of hot young women.  When I asked Akemi about it, she informed me one visited this doctor “give more energy to your cincin”.  Ah.  That explained the photos.

Other assorted store and restaurant front mascots.  Osaka was full of them:

This guy looks like one angry S.O.B. Better eat his kushiage if you know what's good for you.
This guy looks like one angry S.O.B. Better eat his kushiage if you know what’s good for you.
Tako-yaki restaurant.
Tako-yaki restaurant.
Fugu restaurant!
Fugu restaurant!
Deadly...but delicious! Or so they say. I find it kind of bland.
Deadly…but delicious! Or so they say. I find it kind of bland.
Here. Have some sushi.
Here. Have some sushi.
Did I not tell you to try his kushiage?
Did I not tell you to try his kushiage?
According to Akemi, this giant crab is actually more famous than the restaurant it represents.
According to Akemi, this giant crab is actually more famous than the restaurant it represents.
I know it's nowhere near as elaborate as the other ones but, damn, I have a soft spot in my heart for this porcine waitress.
I know it’s nowhere near as elaborate as the other ones but, damn, I have a soft spot in my heart for this porcine waitress.
I love me some scallops.
I love me some scallops.
Found this one a little weird. I dunno.
Found this one a little weird. I dunno.
More tako-yaki.
More tako-yaki.
Awwww.
Awwww.
It was all fun and games until the steer vomited on her.
It was all fun and games until the steer vomited on her.
Alas, no, this place does NOT serve dragon.
Alas, no, this place does NOT serve dragon.

More Osaka sights:

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The famed canal that runs through Osaka.  When the city’s beloved Hanshin Tigers won Japan’s version of The World Series, locals celebrated by jumping off the bridge and into the water.  Not recommended.

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Osaka is known for many things – chiefest among them is takoyaki, battered octopus balls served molten hot.  Here, locals and tourists alike line up for the hometown delicacy.

They even do a dessert version, minus the octopus and plus the chocolate.

They even do a dessert version, minus the octopus and plus the chocolate.

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Oooh, that’s sharp!

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Purple Deadpool says: “Let’s party!”

For our farewell dinner, it was another Osaka speciality: okinomiyaki (seafood pancake…sort of).

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And that’s a wrap on Osaka.  Sayanora!  Until next year!

The view outside our room.  I could get used to this…

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Hey, here’s another EXCLUSIVE SNEAK PEEK CLIP from Friday night’s Dark Matter season finale.

September 15, 2016: Osaka Day #2!

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Good morning!

The hotel (Intercontinental) upgraded us to a suite complete with kitchen so we took advantage by picking up some items at the local farmers’ market and shops and making breakfast.

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Giant figs, two types of dried mushrooms, Okinawa sea salt, garlic & thyme olive oil, three types of dried pepper, local honey, local tomato juice, local orange jelly, local thread peppers, and local yuzu-kosho paste.

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Akemi looking and feeling quite at home.

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The peppers were very tasty – and not particularly hot.  EXCEPT for the one Akemi got.  smile

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They were selling three types of eggs that differed by what the chickens ate.  The ones we picked up were pretty rich and delicious.

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Last night, it was unagi dinner with Akemi’s family: her brother, father, and mother.  We went to their favorite local eel restaurants (and mine!) Uoi.  We actually visited for lunch last time we were in town – and got a little TOUR as well.

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Appetizer: tempura shrimp paste wrapped in shiso and lotus root.

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Shirayaki.  Light, crisp, and possessed of a sweet, subtle flavor.

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Kabayaki dinner – This sauced version is darker, richer – and equally delicious.

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On the way back to our hotel, I couldn’t resist stopping for my favorite Japanese dessert.  Not macarons at chocolatier Jean-Paul Hevin.  Not the airy light seasonal maron cakes at revered patissier Hidemo Sugino’s shop.  Not the hand-crafted chocolates at La Maison du Chocolat.  I”m talking about the $1.50 Hattendon cream buns available in many fine Japanese subway stations.   I got the matcha (green tea) and the custard.  As amazing as I remembered them!

Hey, check it out!  It’s a sneak peek scene from this Friday night’s Dark Matter season finale:

September 12, 2016: Tokyo Day #1!

September 11th back west but the 12th here.  This blog entry comes to you from the future!

So, the fallout from Friday night’s Dark Matter double-header continues to resonate.  I’ll hold off talking about it until our international fans have had a chance to catch up but, suffice it to say, if you found the ending of episode 212 shocking, you’ll be downright devastated by our season finale.

Meanwhile, I’m in Japan.  After a typical sleepless pre-flight night and a relatively sleepless eight hour flight, I arrived in Tokyo at 4:00 p.m. local time, about midnight my time.  Once Akemi and I had caught caught the shuttle bus from Narita, checked into our hotel, enjoyed a late night of yakitori –

Thigh, breast, meatball and, of course, chicken butt!
Thigh, breast, meatball and, of course, chicken butt!

I forced myself to stay up until 9:30 p.m. (5:30 a.m. Vancouver time).  By 10 p.m. I was OUT.  Then, following a deep sleep, I roused awake in a panic, assuming I had slept in and wasted much of the afternoon.  I scrambled to check the time on my iPhone.  What was it?  8 a.m.?  9?!  10?!!!  Try 1:30 a.m.  I’d been asleep for all of three and a half hours.

I slept fitfully until 6 am when I woke up – much to Akemi’s relief as she had been up since 4 a.m. – then we got dressed and headed over to the Tsukiji Fish Market for our traditional Japanese breakfast –

Nikki-dofu (left) and "guts bowl" (right)
Nikki-dofu (left) and “guts bowl” (right)

We walked around Ginza.  We walked around Omotesando.  I humored Akemi by agreeing to a vegetarian lunch where I enjoyed was served about a dozen dish small dishes.  The overarching theme of the lunch was bitter-goopy.

My review: Bleeergh!
My review: Bleeergh!

Then, it was off to La Maison de Chocolat for second-lunch.

Iced chocolate, two chocolate macaroons, a chocolate eclair, a couple of chocolate almonds, and a chocolate square.  And an iced tea for Akemi.
Iced chocolate, two chocolate macaroons, a chocolate eclair, a couple of chocolate almonds, and a chocolate square. And an iced tea for Akemi.

Well, my Snow Monkeys are off to a horrendous start in fantasy football league play, putting up an abysmal 64.14 points.  It’s going to be a looong season!

Akemi is thrilled to be here.
Akemi is thrilled to be here.
Ah, Japanese toilets - how I've missed you!
Ah, Japanese toilets – how I’ve missed you!
Check out the window cleaner waaaay up on top.
Check out the window cleaner waaaay up on top.
A surprisingly uncrowded Ginza dori - at 7 a.m.
A surprisingly uncrowded Ginza dori – at 7 a.m.
Rule #1 of traveling with Akemi: Stop to take a picture with every street corner mascot.
Rule #1 of traveling with Akemi: Stop to take a picture with every street corner mascot.
Welcome to Tsukiji
Welcome to Tsukiji
Imagine the size of the plate!
Imagine the size of the plate!
Two types of sea urchin in charcoal bun.
Two types of sea urchin in charcoal bun.
7:00 a.m. lineup for sushi breakfast.
7:00 a.m. lineup for sushi breakfast.
Akemi - super bummed the Sanrio shop was closed.
Akemi – super bummed the Sanrio shop was closed.
Who needs menus?  Just pick and point.
Who needs menus? Just pick and point.
Okay, okay.  Akemi has been talking about this for years.  I promise to try it before I head back home.
Okay, okay. Akemi has been talking about this for years. I promise to try it before I head back home.
According to Akemi, it's a specially designed spoon attuned to the vibrations of your hand that makes the ice cream melt faster.   Hmmm.
According to Akemi, it’s a specially designed spoon attuned to the vibrations of your hand that makes the ice cream melt faster. Hmmm.
Sad robot.
Despondent robot.
A Jean-Paul Hevin chocolate macaron.
A Jean-Paul Hevin chocolate macaron.
Akemi misses the dogs so badly, she's taken to bonding with the animatronic ones.
Akemi misses the dogs so badly, she’s taken to bonding with the animatronic ones.
Uh oh.  Sad rabbit.  The memory card in Akemi's camera conks out.
Uh oh. Sad rabbit. The memory card in Akemi’s camera conks out.

Sushi tonight, then we’re off to a chocolate-making class tomorrow before catching the bullet train to Osaka.  Akemi had me call the shop last month to find out if the class was offered in English.  Sadly, the answer was no – but, undeterred, Akemi signed us up anyway.  “It’s only one class,”she said.  Right.  Only one FOUR HOUR class!

August 15, 2015: Japan’s culinary marvels…I’ll be missing!

Well, this marks the first year in over a decade that I won’t be visiting Japan.  sad

Here are some of the new or limited-time-only culinary marvels I’ll be missing…

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The Aka Samurai Burger!  You have a choice of fried chicken or a beef patty served with lettuce, tomato and “red” cheese served in a “red” bun – the red hue courtesy of tomato powder.  It’s served with a red hot sauce.

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Ben & Jerry’s Strawbearry!  Strawberry ice cream with white chocolate polar bears and marshmallow sauce.

The insanity of Taco Bell Japan!

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Lotteria’s potato chip burgers!  You have choice between the Zeppin Cheese Potato Chip Burger and the Salad Chicken Potato Chip Burger.  Top with you favorite shaker flavors: Wasabi Beef, Consommé with Punch, Rich Salt, or Dark Nori Seaweed Salt.

via rocketnews24
via rocketnews24

Ramen ice cream topped with freeze-dried beef!

via JapanToday
via JapanToday

Ice cream cigares!  These pricey ice cream-stuffed cookies come in a box of twenty and will set you back about $50!

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Unagi (grilled eel) soda!

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Salmon-flavored soft candy!  With real salmon flakes!

via JapanToday
via JapanToday

Tom Yum Pizza!  Apparently, it tastes just like the Thai soup!

via Eater Japan
via Eater Japan

Burger King fondue burgers!  Choose between the chicken or beef.  Both come with a side of melted cheese.

via RocketNews24
via RocketNews24

Momotan Aged Meat-Flavored Snacks!  A manju cake that tastes like old meat!

via RocketNews24
via RocketNews24

Kimchi-flavored Ramune soda!  Apparently, it’s great!

via JapanTimes
via JapanTimes

Super Sour Lemon Potato Chips!

via Eater.com
via Eater.com

The Mos Burger/Mr. Donut collaborative French Cruller Burger with Chorizo!  The chorizo spiral sausage is topped with hot sauce!

via Eater.com
via Eater.com

Pizza Hut’s cheddar cheese crusted dessert pizza topped with mini marshmallows and milk caramel sauce!

via delish.com
via delish.com

Waffnuts & Chounuts!  The former is a waffle/donut hybrid that comes in three flavors: strawberry, chocolate-frosted almond, and cereal-coated Uji Matcha green tea.  The latter is a cream puff-donut hybrid comes stuffed in double caramel or lemon (cream) cheese.

 

September 21, 2014: Japan Day #11!

We were standing at the hotel reception, purchasing our tickets for the shuttle bus that would take us to the airport.  The middle-aged Caucasian guy beside us was purchasing a ticket of his own.  “What’s your room number?”asked the staff member.  The guy looked around anxiously, then leaned in conspiratorially and whispered his room number.  “And your name?”requested the staff member.  A couple of furtive glances left and right, and the guy answered: “I don’t want to say out loud.”

Don’t want to say out loud?  Seriously?  Had he recently been featured on a repeat telecast of America’s Most Wanted?  I edged over to get a peek as he signed his name and – HOLY CRAP – I may have misread but I think it said “Beyonce”!

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One of the newest additions to our travel accessories was this handy pocket wifi from Global Advanced Communications. Just go to their website, place an order, give them your dates, and the device will either be waiting for you at the airport upon your arrival or can be delivered to your hotel.  I can’t tell you how awesome it was to not have to worry about roaming fees and have continuous web access.  Before leaving the hotel, we simply put the devices into the self-addressed, stamped envelope provided, dropped it off at the nearest mailbox, and we were done.  Super convenient.  Highly recommended for your next trip.  http://www.globaladvancedcomm.com/pocketwifi.html

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Akemi’s sister, Hiromi, stopped by our hotel room this morning to drop me off a six pack of matcha (ceremonial green tea) of various grades.  When we last visited Japan for Hiromi’s wedding, we met a tea grandmaster who swore by the stuff, maintaining he drank seven cups a day to keep himself fit and mentally alert.  He looked pretty damn spry for an 80-something year old, so I may want to follow his lead.  On the other hand, what do I need to be spry for when I’m 80-something?  I imagine that, by then, it’ll be all fine dining and reading.

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I was disappointed that we’d gone the entire trip without seeing a pug or french bulldog until we met this porky little fellow on our way back to the hotel after today’s soba lunch.  He was a pretty energetic three year old, and just what our Lulu needs – a younger man who can keep up with her.

Since you all mentioned it – yes, I did experience that earthquake the other day.  Sort of.  We were perusing one of the gift shops at Namco Namja town when Akemi asked: “Feel the earthquake?”  “When?”I asked.  “Now,”she said.  And, sure enough, I did feel it – a low, sustained trembling like a massive convoy rumbling by.  It was over in seconds.  Good thing too. I was THIS close from shouting “Every man for himself!” before hurtling the baby strollers blocking the exit and making good my flight to freedom.

And, finally, I should mention the fact that Akemi was stalked by a ghost girl on the subway the other day.  For some reason, this creepy-looking (maybe 3 or 4 year old) kid  just fixated on Akemi and stared at her throughout our ride.  She and her mother disembarked at the same station and then, after we thought we’d lost them, she and her mother doubled back and seemed to follow us out the exit and through Roppongi.  I thought it was hilarious, but Akemi was unnerved until we seemed to lose the kid for good.  But then, as we were walking into the mall (and this Akemi failed to notice and I didn’t want to mention it for fear of creeping her out), a young woman walked past us going the other way and she too gawked at Akemi – and she looked just like a grown-up version of that creepy kid on the subway!  When we went to lunch, I advised Akemi to check under her chair – just in case the ghost girl was in hiding underneath, waiting to surprise her.

About to board!  See you in Vancouver!

September 19, 2014: Japan Day #9!

Today, we had plans to meet up with our friend, Nihei, for a yakitori lunch but, unfortunately, a last minute meeting derailed those yakitori plans – and sent us to Butagumi, my favorite tonkatsu restaurant, instead!

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Tucked away in a little side street in Nishi-Azabu, the rustic restaurant offers varieties of tonkatusu (golden-fried pork cutlets) from all over Japan.

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We started with a double order of the San Mi Ni Pork – sweet, salty, umami and crispy, it goes great with rice.  I’ve been trying to replicate the recipe at home for years now – to no avail.  sad

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We ordered three types of pork.  Surprisingly, the tastiest was this Nattoku-Toni pork from GIFU prefecture.  I say surprising because it was the leanest cut of our three choices – yet proved equally tender and more flavorful.

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The two month aged Himuro-Buta from Gunma (pictured above) and Kashiwa-Gensou Pork from Chiba were also great, all nestled in an exceptionally light panko crusting.

Butagumi: 2-24-9 Nishiazabu, Minato, Tokyo

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Passed this interesting sign outside a restaurant.  Not sure what it means.  Cool down with tempura on hot days?

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These cool state-of-the-art public urinals come with manual water flushing systems and soap dispensers! Took me a while to figure them out.

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Oh.  No.  Wait.

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In preparation for the cold east coast winter, we also got our dogs some down-filled coats as well.

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Then stopped by the baby section of Uniqlo and, for half the price, picked up Jelly a whole new winter wardrobe.

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Interesting metro print ad featuring Kyari Pamyu Pamyu.

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Mecha-gorilla outside a shop in Daikanyama.

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Akemi and her new friend.

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I’ll do the cutest thing on the menu, please.

 1Wow.  Small world.  It’s nice to know that, despite our cultural differences, we are united in our hatred of obnoxious cyclists.

For dinner tonight, I got a recommendation from a foodie forum and made a reservation at Sushiso Masa.  I was expecting a modest, lovely little meal.  Instead, we were treated to a mind-blowing feast featuring some 40+ different pieces of fish served in an unbelievable variety of ways.  Chef Masa kindly took the time to explain (to us, but really to Akemi who translated for me) the various fish, preparations, and his inspired approaches and philosophy.   We had three different sea urchins prepared three different ways, sashimis, nigiris, cookied specialties, arrangements and presentations I’ve never had before.

Some of the visual highlights…

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Spectacular.  This place has earned its spot into regular rotation alongside Sawada, Esquisse, and L’Effervescence.

Sushiso Masa: 4-1-15 Nishiazabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo

 Tonight, I leave you with another video my sister sent me – this one of a snorky Lulu and her toy:

September 18, 2014: Japan Day #8!

I finally hit the wall.  Mark the date and time: September 17th at 7:23 p.m.  That is, officially, when I stopped being hungry.  Yep, I’m done.  At this point, I’m just going to reduce my portions to the point where I can simply wean myself off food.

Today, I met up with my oldest friend from Japan, Moro-san, for a day of strolling, shopping, and – what else? – eating.

We had lunch at L’Osier, one of the city’s most revered French restaurants that reopened last year following a two and a half year renovation.  I arrived early and was promptly greeted by the affable maitre d, Lionel, who gave me a rundown of the restaurant’s history and then, when Moro-san arrived, led us on a tour of the place.  It is impressive.  And so was the meal.  For the most part.

To accommodate guests who would like to snap photos of their food, the restaurant can arrange to have the individual dishes snapped in the kitchen and the photos emailed to guests.  Or, Lionel kindly offered to borrow my smart phone, pop into the kitchen, and snap the pics himself.  I elected to forego the pics on this day but, suffice it to say, they were some of the most artful dishes I’ve ever been served.  We enjoyed abalone, lobster, and a chestnut soup starter that was the star of the meal.

I can’t say enough nice things about Lionel.  I was less enthusiastic with the rest of the servers who promptly forgot us at one point.  Three of them were fawning over the couple at the next table, chatting, pulling their chairs out for them, clearing their tables – while we sat, virtually ignored.

While we were eating, we noticed the waiters wheeling around a candy tray of offerings that would have make Willy Wonka proud.  We were looking forward to checking it out at the end of our lunch.  Unfortunately, the servers were too busy ingratiating themselves to our neighbors that they never bothered to bring it our way.   In fact, even after our fellow diners had left – hell, even after the ENTIRE dining room had cleared out – they STILL didn’t bother to check in on us.  If I hadn’t waved someone down and demanded the bill, I’m convinced they would have left us seated through dinner service.

Again, great food.  But the service will ensure I won’t be making a return visit.

Between lunch and dinner, we tried to work up an appetite by strolling through Omotesando…

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Mmmmm.  Hamburger sushi.

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The Prada Building.  Gorgeous.

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Another interesting-looking building.

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We stopped off at a tiny basement-level bakery, d’un Rareté, owned and operated by a former co-worker who spent two years in France honing his craft.  We picked up a bunch of goodies including some delectable canelés, chocolate brioches, and raspberry-stuffed coronets.  When I mentioned our visit to Akemi she insisted I make a return visit – with her this time.  Not only did the fresh baked goods look amazing, but she ALSO worked with Adachi-san in her Pierre Marcolini days and remembers him fondly as a sweep and supportive co-worker.  So she wants to return the favor and support him in kind.  And I’m happy to do so as well, if it means I can grab another chocolate brioche.

GYBE Bldg. B1F, 5-10-1 Jingu-mae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

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http://www.dune-rarete.com/index.php

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Moro-san and I concluded our evening with a very nice dinner at the homey Ristorante Hamasaki.

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And then I caught the metro back to the hotel…

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Where this little surprise was awaiting me, compliments of sis.  A video from home:

September 17, 2014: Japan Day #7!

No.  No!  Day #7?!!!  It’s almost over!  In a matter of days, I’ll be back in Vancouver, scrambling to plan and pack and make my way to Toronto for a seven month stay – one month of advance prep in which we’ll be filling out the director’s schedule, approving designs, hiring DOP’s and editors, start the ball rolling on casting (October), a couple of months of construction on our standing sets (late October through December), prep on our opening two-parter (December), then production itself (early January to May), and the post wrap-up (June-ish?).  I suspect time will fly.  Paul sent me his first draft of episode #5 the other day, and it’s fabulous.  I suggested a few changes (minor) and now look forward to his draft of episode #6 (and Rob and Trevor’s drafts of episodes #7 and #8 respectively).  My draft of episode #9, meanwhile, is already done and waiting to follow suit.

Last night, Akemi and I were greatly looking forward to dinner at Esquisse, one of our very favorite restaurants – and, as always, our old friend Chef Beccat  mightily impressed.  The restaurant holds special significance for us – or, more to the point, its fantastic chef, Lionel Beccat because he was overseeing the kitchen at Michel Troisgros on Akemi and my very first date…five years ago!

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Akemi then.

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And Akemi now (or, more specifically, last night).

Some of the highlights of our fabulous meal…

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Bottled tea: jasmine and green tea.

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The ever affable Chef Lionel Beccat.

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Plump, creamy oyster with lemon gelee and fermented sake foam.

 1Cured toro (tuna belly) with tomato gelee.

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Grilled grouper with lily root puree.

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Spiced lamb with carrot puree.

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Sweet corn polenta with sweet corn soup an orange sorbet.

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The team: Takahashi-san, Beccat-san, and Ogasawara-san (our “sommelier”, not “the alcoholic” as Akemi mistakenly assumed his title to be).

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A tremendous meal.  Highly recommended.  If you’re uncertain about splurging on dinner, opt for lunch.  As Akemi says, it offers “good cost performance.”

This morning, we got up early and hit Tsukiji…

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Akemi picks up some bonito.

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Zoidberg has fallen on hard times since the cancellation of Futurama.

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Wagyu!

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For the bear who has everything…

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Godzilla vs. Girlfriendzilla!

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Tokyo is full of these little shops offering various foodstuffs from dedicated regions of the country.

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Akemi and her buddy take  break.

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Breakingu Bad-o.

And two more terrific meals: sushi at Ichiyanagi and kaiseiki at Uchiyama.  Both great places with wonderful, super-friendly customer service.

I leave you with Ginza at night…

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September 16, 2014: Japan Day #6! I feel like I lost a day!

Seriously.  My vacation is short enough without my misplacing days!

Last night, Akemi and I hit the basement food level of the Mitsukoshi department store where we picked up a variety of tasty treats.

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Tokyo street fashion.  I gotta get me one of those for Toronto.

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Our dinner haul.  My favorite was the cutlet and egg sandwich (the round white thing at the top).  That gang from Maisen sure know their tonkatsu!

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And various desserts including a sweet potato pudding and a chocolate, caramel, and macadamia-studded cake in the shape of a popsicle from Sebastien Bouillet.

I woke up early this morning, hoping to hit the Tsukiji Fish Market for a sushi breakfast but, by the time we were ready to go, we decided it was too late for breakfast – and only slightly too early for lunch.  And so, we caught the metro to Ikebukuro where we met Akemi’s sister, Hiromi, and then headed off to Namco Namja Town in the Sunshine City Mall.

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These silly Tony the Tiger bags were on display at the Hibiya station – retailing for about 22k a pop!  Grrrrrreat for carrying your groceries!  Akemi says he looks like he’s had work done on his face.

We passed a display of the various subway etiquette campaigns over the years.  Some of the highlights:

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Do what exactly?  Try to swim through a door?

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Apparently, the Japanes are notorious for practicing their golf swings with wet umbrellas.

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Yes, at home where your wife and kids can deal with it.

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Okay, I’m going to admit I’ve been guilty of this – practicing my ring routine between stops.

Stop neglecting your facial muscles.  Pick up this ridiculous contraption!

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Finally – Namja Town!

Our first (and, in hindsight, only) stop was Gyoza Stadium, a food park with about a dozen stands each offering numerous gyoza varieties from throughout Japan.  Sadly, some of our favorites from our last visit – the garlic gyozas, the kimchee gyozas, and the ash gyozas – were no longer available as they’re apparently always featuring new gyoza artists.

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We ended up sampling about 15 different types of gyoza.  My favorites were the cheese gyozas and the mentaiko-topped versions.

From there, we headed off to Ice Cream City with its 300+ flavors of ice creams ranging from the bizarre (octopus and curry) to the breathtaking (sake!) – only to discover it no longer existed.  Instead, ice cream city and its 300 flavors have been contracted down to a tiny stand and 30 rotating flavors.  We settled for a fairly unremarkable trio that included a charcoal ice cream that, while dark, really just tasted like vanilla.

To top things off, I lost the bag holding my sun glasses and the chocolates Hiromi had gifted us.  We retraced our steps but came up empty.  If we were anywhere else, I would have shrugged and written them off – but this is Japan and I figured chances were good someone probably turned them into the Lost and Found.  So we check with information and –

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Cha-daa!

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A maid drumming up business for her cafe.

Akemia and Hiromi headed off to Shinjuku to do some shopping and I hopped a metro to Akihabara – got turned around – twice – and by the time I finally made it, I was exhausted.  A little browsing and I headed back to the hotel to gather my strength for tonight BIG dinner!

Today, I leave you with one more subway warning:

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Note the look of sheer terror on the guy’s face.  Woman down!  He hits the button!  The train is coming!  And…?!   AND…?!!!!  Stay tuned!  I’m heading back to the station tomorrow to read the final instalment!

September 14, 2014: Japan Day #4!

On our last night in Osaka, we joined Akemi’s family for dinner at Le Comptoir de Benoit, an Alain Ducasse restaurant on the 33rd floor of the Breeze Building in Nishi-Umeda.  We had counter seats which allowed us an unobstructed view of the open kitchen, allowing us to take in the culinary theatrics while we enjoyed our meal.

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The open kitchen.

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Akemi’s brother (Haruhiko) and sister (Hiromi) ready for some eating action.

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Akemi’s mom and dad – focused!

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A foie gras gelee topped with shaved truffles.  Incredibly aromatic, all of its components melted in your mouth.

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Langoustine and basil spring rolls with a romaine dipping sauce, creme fraiche, and caviar.

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Abalone and escargot with parsley, garlic, and a delicious Japanese green whose name escapes me.  Have never had abalone and escargot together, but they were a perfect combination.  My favorite dish of the night.

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A bouilliabaisse of mussel, clam, octopus, squid, crispy red seabreem, and saffron mashed potatoes.

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Tender duck in porto sauce, beetroot, corn karaage, and a basil and ricotta ravioli with curry oil.

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A raspberry cheesecake served with a side of yogurt sorbet.

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And a few mignardises to end the meal.  That matcha chocolate was delightfully intense.

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The gang with Chef Soshi Ueno.

Chef Ueno thanked us for coming and informed us that, sadly, the restaurant would be shuttering its doors at month’s end.  He has yet to make any decisions on his future but I do hope to track him down, wherever he lands, the next time I’m in town.

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Somebody enjoyed just a little too much champagne.

This morning, we checked out of our hotel (The Intercontinental was fabulous by the way), and took a stroll through the nearby mall where Akemi spotted a Hattendo cream bun stand!

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Under normal circumstances, with lunch a mere hour away, I wouldn’t have snacked…but it was Hattendo cream buns!  With a seasonal chestnut cream flavor!  I took one to go and ate it, surreptitiously, as some Japanese frown upon the consumption of food and drink in public places.

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Mission accomplished, we caught the metro to our lunch destination.

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Since we were traveling off-hours, I got to ride in the famed Women Only compartment where I sprawled out on a chaise longue and was served a cosmopolitan.  The rumors were true!

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We disembarked and I consulted this handy map.  Then, we were on our way…

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We came across this interesting company logo.

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And this even more interesting building face.

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Finally, after Akemi almost got run over by a rogue cyclist, we found the place, Fujiya 1935, so named because it’s been open since 1935.  Its present Chef, Tetsuya Fujiwara, has been running the kitchen for ten years now and has earned the restaurant 3 Michelin stars three years running.

Some of the culinary highlights from our final meal with Akemi’s family on this trip:

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A silky sweet butternut squash soup with grape sorbet.

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Fluffy fresh-baked chestnut bread topped with whipped ricotta.

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Tai (red snapper) sashimi served with a tomato consomme gelee, gingko, basil oil, shiso flowers, olives, and okra flower.  Akemi’s favourite dish.

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Crisp confit ayu (sweetfish) served with a sauce made of river seaweed.

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Pasta with roasted mackerel.

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3 month-aged beef served with a raw porcini sauce and accompaniments.

Unfortunately, we had a shinkasen to catch so we missed dessert which, by all accounts, was spectacular.  Maybe next year!

Back to Tokyo!  We’ll be getting in at around 6:30 p.m.  By the time we check in, it’ll be around 7:30.  Rather than make a reservation somewhere, we’re planning to hit the basement level of the nearby Mitsukoshi Department store which offers several hundred varieties of delicious dining options, from sushi to pork cutlet sandwiches, steamed buns to pastries.

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Finally, if you’re a fan of the Stargate television franchise, you might like to check out this article by long-time Stargate science consultant Mika McKinnon:

http://space.io9.com/cryptography-embedded-in-stargate-universe-is-a-lesson-1634445198/1634612853/+rtgonzalez

Tomorrow, I plan to hit Tsukiji Market for breakfast, peruse Akihabara (Electric Town, Anime Geek Central), and visit my old friends at Ginza’s Pierre Marcolini Cafe, before heading out for our most anticipated meal of this trip: dinner at Esquisse.

September 14, 2014: Japan Day #3 – Tea, Eel, and Leg Cramps!

Last night, I turned in at a nice and early 10:00 p.m.  As a result, I woke up this morning at a less nice and early 3:50 a.m.  I dozed on and off, cobbling together about another hour in catnaps, before sitting bolt upright at 8:15 a.m. with the realization we had a tea ceremony to attend!

Mrs. Aota runs the show!
Mrs. Aota runs the show!

Akemi’s mother teaches tea ceremony and, once a month, hosts a special event for her students.  And the odd daughter-dating foreigner.

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We walked into a vestibule, removed our shoes, then walked through the partition to an adjoining room where Akemi’s brother, Haruhiko, dressed in a men’s kimono, greeted us.   Akemi’s brother is awesome.  Every time I see him, he never patronizes me with that sloooow enunciation usually reserved for equally sloooow foreigners.  Instead, he speaks to me in rapidfire Japanese, no doubt assuming/hoping I’ll eventually learn.  I love his optimism!

So far, so good...
So far, so good…

I was asked to sign my name and, even though I haven’t practiced since last year, I availed myself nicely.

The house is older with a very low ceiling.  According to Akemi, it was designed this way to discourage guests from engaging in sword fights – which is a shame because I was really feeling the urge.  Instead, I kept my head down and said my hello’s to the gathering, then followed everyone to an open garden, donning the world’s most uncomfortable sandals enroute and almost sliding off the stone path into the tiny fish pond.

After crossing the garden, we ducked into another room where ten of us were seated in a semi-circle.  I tried kneeling like everyone else but only lasted some five minutes before my knees gave out.  I opted for the slightly more comfortable but uncomfortable nevertheless cross-legged sit.

Akemi's sister, Hiromi, makes the matcha.
Akemi’s sister, Hiromi, makes the matcha.

Tea ceremonies are surprisingly complex affair and I like to think I did alright for a Canadian who had never taken part in one before.  We were presented with a bowl of wagashi (Japanese rice sweets) and I was instructed to help myself – in very intricate fashion.

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I had to take the chopsticks with my right hand, then adjust them at the midway point with my left hand, then use my right hand to transfer the wagashi to the tiny serving paper I’d been given.

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After eating the wagashi (Akemi informed me I didn’t have to eat everything but I wanted to be extra polite so I ensured there were no leftovers), I was presented with a bowl of matcha (ceremonial green tea).  I had to bow, pick up the bowl with my right hand, set it down in front of me, then set it down to my right, then set it down to my left and exchange bows with the person sitting beside me, then pick up the bowl with my right hand but slip my left hand underneath to support it, then rotate the bowl two or three times (this was a point of some contention), then drink.  Once finished, I rotated the bowl counter-clockwise and set it down.

While we sipped our tea, various antique plates and bowls were passed around for our inspection.  Akemi was understandably anxious every time I picked something up and palpably relieved whenever I’d pass it safely off to my neighbor.

Another round of matcha, then we retreated back through the garden in our unwieldy sandals, and back to the main room where Akemi reconnected with old friends and neighbors while I feigned a rudimentary understanding of the conversation.

While Akemi’s mother, brother and sister greeted the next round of tea ceremony students, Akemi, her father and I went to lunch at Uoi, a popular eel restaurant.  We got there early to beat the line – but had to stand in line anyway because we were TOO early:

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Then took our seats at the counter and enjoyed one of the greatest unagi meals I’ve ever had.

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Apparently, Tokyo and Osaka unagi-yas prepare their eel differently.  One slices from belly to back while the other cuts from back to belly (not sure which).  Also, one steams their eels before grilling (again, not sure which).

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Tasty eel guts!

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Eel-stuffed omelet.

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Sweet eel with rice.

Sadly, no unagi ice cream. sad

After we were done, one of the chefs took us on a little tour of the “unagi room” where they keep all the eels.

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The eel are kept in stacked pails that are continually showered with a steady stream of cold water.

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Who’s hungry?

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Our affable guide, host, and chef.  It was super kind of him to offer to give us the tour.

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On our way back to the hotel, we stop off for a snack.  Pictured: me with my matcha latte and chocolate cream donut.  Not pictured: me after I dribbled matcha latte down the front of my jacket and then inadvertently dusted that with powdered sugar.

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Who wants to ride the Ferris Wheel?  Not me!

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Where Springstreen got his start.

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Whale watching in Osaka.

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Hey, it’s the Lupin live-action movie!  I’ve got to convince Akemi to go with me!

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The breathtaking harrowing view from out hotel.

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The hotel garden.

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Sassy hotel model.

I leave you with this informative tutorial on proper bowing etiquette…

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